Copyright 1986 The Times Mirror Company Los Angeles Times January 29, 1986


Bobby Baird hadn't seen Eddie Truman in more than 10 years, but at Santa Anita recently, Baird, the former jockey, and Truman, a local trainer, crossed paths.

Truman thanked Baird, who couldn't understand why. Then Truman reminded Baird of the day in Detroit when the trainer started a young filly and bet $3,000 on her. Baird was Truman's jockey, and coming out of the gate the filly dropped her rider on the seat of his pants. The $3,000 that Eddie Truman had bet was the last money he had. Worse, Truman's principal owner owed him several thousand and it didn't look as if he was going to pay. Desperate, Truman left for California, where after working as an assistant trainer for a couple of years, he formed his own stable. Working mostly with claiming horses, Truman wins races. Now, Bobby Baird has sent somebody else to California, this time with intent.

Eddie Baird, his 18-year-old son, arrived at Santa Anita a couple of weeks ago and is trying to crack the toughest jockey colony in the country.

If Eddie wins only a fraction of the races that his father did, he'll do all right. Bobby Baird was never a major figure on the racing map, but as a jockey whose career spanned six decades, he was one of the most durable.

Because of time off for World War II -- Baird was at Normandy Beach on D-Day -- and time that trainer Ben Jones held his contract but didn't ride him, he is credited with just 39 years of service by the American Racing Manual, even though he rode from 1938 through 1983. Only Johnny Longden, with 40 years, rode longer. Bill Shoemaker is in his 38th year.

Bobby Baird was 63 when he rode his last horse, at Hawthorne on the outskirts of Chicago in 1983. That was Baird's 24,822nd race -- more riding than Eddie Arcaro or Ted Atkinson or Johnny Adams, prominent jockeys who also enjoyed long careers. Baird won 3,749 races, which ranks him 20th on the lifetime list, just behind Atkinson and Ralph Neves and ahead of such stayers as Don Pierce, Rudy York and Hedley Woodhouse.

In 1978, when he had not yet turned 58, Baird became the oldest jockey ever to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Shoemaker, 54, would need to have a Derby mount in 1989 or later to become an older Derby jockey than Baird.

Baird didn't even want to quit riding when he did. His goal was to win 4,000 races, something only 16 jockeys have done. His last race was a winner, aboard a horse named Samwentsailing, who was owned by his wife Marie, but dismounting that day Baird felt like the sand at Normandy.

"I had to ride that horse hard to win the race," Baird said. "When I got down, my right leg buckled on me. It was a half an hour before I could walk. I still had trouble from a back operation that I had for a ruptured disk 35 years before. I knew that this was as far as I could go."

In California, Baird wishes his son Eddie to have a full drink of the success that he, Baird, only sipped 34 years ago. In 1952, Longden and Shoemaker tied for the riding title at Santa Anita, each with 47 wins, and after Eddie Arcaro in third place came Baird with 24 wins. Baird also finished second to Shoemaker that year in the standings at Golden Gate Fields and later had a 16-win season at Santa Anita, during the days when the meeting was only 50 days long. In the mid-1950s, however, Baird returned to the East. His first marriage was disintegrating, his wife was a Californian and he wanted to get away.

"Even with all my family problems, leaving California was the biggest mistake I ever made," Baird said. A ninth-grade dropout from New Waverly, Tex., Baird began his life as a horseman by working for Jones on the trainer's farm in Parnell, Mo., and, when he was old enough, signed a five-year riding contract.

In 1938, the year Hollywood Park opened, Jones had the teen-aged Baird in California, galloping good horses like Lawrin, the winner of the Kentucky Derby. But Jones had so many riders at his disposal that Baird hardly got a chance. He didn't win his first race until the fall of '38, when the Jones operation shifted to Aqueduct.

After the war, Baird was free of the contract to Jones and able to free-lance. He had a weight problem, but he successfully reduced. One of his first big wins was with a longshot, Star Reward, in the Equipoise Mile at Arlington Park in 1949. The win was sweeter because it was over Coaltown, Citation's stablemate, who was trained by Ben Jones for Calumet Farm.

"Coaltown was a 1-9 favorite that day," Baird said. "My colors had a lot of red in them and looked something like Calumet's. So when we made our move coming into the stretch, most everybody figured it was Coaltown. But it was us."

Baird won the Louisiana Derby twice, the Arkansas and Ohio Derbys once each.

His 10th-place finish in 1978, with Raymond Earl, was his fifth unsuccessful ride in the Kentucky Derby, coming 22 years after he had last been at Churchill Downs for the big race. In his previous appearance, with Pintor Lea in 1956, he had his best chance to win the Derby. Pintor Lea, part of a Calumet entry with Fabius, had finished third in the Florida Derby and the pair was the 4-1 second choice behind Needles at Churchill Downs. Fabius led Needles going into the stretch, with Baird saving ground on the rail with Pintor Lea. It looked as though Calumet had a chance to run 1-2, as it had with Citation and Coaltown eight years before.

"I ran into a stone wall in the stretch," Baird said. "Needles was on the outside of me and able to get through. Then at the three-sixteenths pole my horse broke down, but he still was able to finish fifth, bad leg and all."

In Baird's first Derby, in 1950, his mount was Stranded, and before the race one of the colt's owners made a startling promise. "Son, if you win this race, the whole pot is yours," he said to the jockey. That would have been a $90,000 payday for Baird, but it was a safe offer. Stranded went off at 120-1 and ran to form, finishing 13th in a 14-horse field.

Eddie Baird -- he rides by his initials, E.T., just as his father rode using R.L. -- didn't have to wait as long as Bobby for his first winner. After graduating from a suburban Chicago high school, Eddie resisted the urge to attend college and study real estate and rode his first winner at Hawthorne in December. That was on his eighth mount and he added two more wins before the season ended. With Chicago's tracks closed for the winter, the Bairds considered Eddie's going to either Aqueduct or the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. But Camilo Marin, a top California agent who knew Bobby, called and offered to get Eddie started at Santa Anita.

"I had the opportunity to go to college, but it's always been my dream to see if I could ride," Eddie Baird said. So Eddie Baird is in California, at the track that, about 30 years ago, his father shouldn't have left. GRAPHIC: Photo, Veteran jockey Bobby Baird, right, with his son, Eddie, who is carrying on the family tradition. Copyright 2001 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.